Building a daily fantasy sports lineup can be a really tricky task, but I think that mastering the art of lineup creation is just as, if not more, important than your ability to predict sports outcomes.
The biggest thing that comes up when you are constructing a lineup is the concept of game theory and how much “different” is too much.
When discussing that topic and the many other ones that are associated with building a lineup like a pro, you need to initially establish what kind of contest you are entering. The three different styles of tournaments are GPP (guaranteed prize pools), single-entry, and cash games.
Guaranteed Prize Pools
The big, guaranteed prize pool tournament is often what draws the user to daily fantasy sports and that is why I do personally think they might be the best thing to enter from an expected value standpoint.
However, you need to understand the pros and cons of the different options and then understand how to create a lineup to capitalize on it. The biggest reason new players will struggle with DFS and GPPs is due to the top-heavy nature of most of these tournaments.
That being said, it doesn’t mean that you can’t make money in these massive, 150-entry tournaments. You just need to make the correct lineup, which admittedly may be easier said than done.
Building a GPP lineup needs to START with an understanding of ownership. Do you need to create a formula that takes yours or others’ projections and calculates how much of them you want?
No, but you do need some general feel for who will or will not be super heavily owned. If you are entering a big GPP, odds are that almost 50% of all of the prize is within the top 10-15 positions in the tournament.
What that means is that you will find it almost impossible to sustain profitability without hitting the very top of the leaderboard from time to time. My personal opinion on attacking GPPs if you believe you are a good player is that entering more lineups WILL be beneficial to you because you have more opportunities to shoot for the top of the board.
Just be aware that if you are not good at hitting the top, your bankroll will take a quicker hit when you are making 30-150 lineups instead of 1-10.
Ownership matters in GPPs because you will rarely hit the top of the board in a tournament without being a little bit different. You also need to avoid making lineups that a whole bunch of other people will make.
A good example for this is that over 50% of players will fill the salary in major golf tournaments. It is not going to drastically hinder your lineup to leave $100-$900 on the table to give yourself a much better chance of being different.
The other way to be different is to attack low-owned options OR combinations of options. If you are playing on an NBA slate with a 60% owned, super cheap option, you can play the 60% owned player.
I usually prefer to take some sort of stand for or against a player like that, but you don’t even have to. Just understand that you need your lineups to be different somehow.
Maybe that means stacking this cheap center with his power forward that is going to be 4% owned. Someone that low-owned will help differentiate your lineup, but the fact that he is also playing right next to his teammate will often cause people to stray away from playing them both.
Another good example of this lineup construction concept is to play a WR against your own defense in football. You play a defense in a GPP to score a lot of points by scoring touchdowns, getting sacks, and making plays. Your cheap WR3 can score 2 touchdowns and the defense can get 3 sacks and a defensive touchdown. They will both be GPP winning plays on a big NFL slate.
Even if they are both chalky options, you will get them low-owned together because a lot of people will try to avoid playing their offensive players against their defense.
In baseball, you can play a $6K pitcher and an elite hitter on the other team against them, especially on a small slate. On a big slate, you want to chase upside, which this is probably not the best for.
If it is a 4-game slate, you can easily get 6 1-run innings from a cheap pitcher and take the home run on the other side. Heck, he can even just hit a bomb off the bullpen and be the best play on the slate. No one else will take those two together because it feels bad. Attack the biases as much as you can.
Create a Story
The other biggest conceptual thing in GPP lineups is creating a story. You want your lineup to explain how you think the night will go in whichever sport. Ideally, you have a little bit of a twist in this lineup to also make it unique.
Imagine I know the Rams-Saints game is going to be heavily owned with a lot of Todd Gurley ownership.
Maybe I make a lineup that includes to Rams pass-catchers and Jared Goff. I still think the game is going to have good production, but I took the lesser-owned pieces. Even better, if my guys go off, it is likely that Todd Gurley struggled, which could eliminate a lot of players that stacked the game and used Gurley.
Learn to Pivot
The last GPP tip is to learn how and when to pivot. Pivoting is simply taking a high-owned option out of your lineup and then inserting a similarly priced option that is much lower-owned.
For example, let’s say James Harden is playing the Suns and Giannis Antetokounmpo is playing the Grizzlies at the same price tag. Now imagine Harden is projected at 36% ownership and Giannis is at 6% due to the matchup.
Consider making a lineup and then substituting Giannis in for James. If they are the same price with those ownership numbers, that is assuming that you think that Harden is 6 times more likely to be in the winning lineup than Giannis, which simply isn’t right. Pivoting can help you avoid chalky options, duplicate lineups, and will help you skyrocket to the top of leaderboards if you nail it.
Building Lineups for Single Entry Contests
Single entry tournaments can vary in size because they can also technically double as GPPs in some situations. I will make a distinction here about leagues and smaller single entry, along with the bigger single-entry GPPs that you find on most sites.
Let’s tackle single entry GPPs. Since the contest only allows 1 entry, they often lack the same prize pools, top-heavy nature, and entries compared to the big multi-entry GPPs. This means there are a few different things to key in on.
The first thing to know about these contests is that you will often see more chalk in these entries because everyone wants to enter their “best” lineup into a single-entry spot.
Players that are 5% owned instead of 30% owned are usually less owned for a reason. When someone is on their 12th lineup, they might throw in that 5% player, where they are less apt to in single-entry stuff.
I think the best way to attack this weakness in the field is to try to find a good pivot or create a completely different lineup build away from the field. Some nights in the NBA, the pricing on a few players will be SO clear that you can play those 2-3 guys and then load up on stars.
What you will find is that the stars then see inflated ownership as a whole, especially in single entry where everyone wants to insert their favorite lineup. Maybe fade on some of the chalk options that you don’t like and then fill the lineup with two mid-priced players instead of the chalky star and scrub. If your two players outscore the popular plays, you will be in prime position to vault to the top of the leaderboard.
Like I mentioned before, the prize pools are often less top heavy, so you don’t need to try and hit first place as much as you want to get into the top 1% or so. That means that I would probably be less willing to play the complete dart throw, .4% option in single-entry contests. This is also the case for most leagues and small contests.
If you are in a 20-100 person contest, try to play the guessing game as to what others will do and attack your favorite spots. Fading a chalk option can be costly, but in a field of 100, you will often again find people trying to insert the optimal lineup. Make the optimal lineup and then make a change or two to ensure that you will be different from the field. This is probably the most optimal situation to use a single pivot.
DFS Cash Game Lineups
Cash games are a completely different animal and should be treated almost like a different game. When I use the term “cash game,” I am referring to contests that allow you to basically double your money if you get into the top half of all entries.
These can be called “50/50s” or “Double Ups” in most places, the slight difference being how many people get paid and just how much. The point of cash games is just to beat half of the field.
I think that determining what the public will do in cash games is the easiest and I think you need to do everything you can to use that to your advantage. The first thing that I like to do is attempt to build the cash lineup that I think will be the most popular tonight.
Some nights, you will see more variation than others, but you will usually be able to determine the type of build that most players are working with. The best way to do that is to understand ownership and then try and find out what projections say about the best lineup build. There are many free and paid lineup builders out there, and you can find plenty for free that will build the “optimal lineup.”
Go through multiple resources and see what projection systems and lineup generators are saying is the best build for the night. This helps in two ways. First of all, these generators and projections often aren’t too far off when it comes to projecting the lineup build. It will often help you get started on building a lineup that makes sense.
The more important thing is that most other players are doing this and either getting their lineup from these optimizers or using them for ideas. This process will let you attempt to understand what you are working with.
You want to make the best possible lineup but finishing in 1st instead of 51st percentile is not going to win you anything extra, so you don’t need to pivot or be fancy if you don’t think it is the right move.
This can even mean using what most people refer to as a block. What this means is that you are simply using a player in your cash lineup because 76% of people are going to use him and you don’t want to get beat by fading him.
If James Harden is 76% and Giannis is 12% in similar matchups at similar projections, I would prefer to play the 76% player in cash games. If Giannis outperforms Harden by 8 points, you will likely be behind the 12% of users that played him over Harden.
However, you only need to be in the top 50% or so, so that 12% of people will not eliminate you. If 76% Harden beats my 12% Giannis by 8, I am instantly behind 76% of the field, meaning that my other players will need to overcome at least 26% of the field that has the 8 points over me. That is putting yourself in a sticky situation and setting yourself up for failure by not understanding the lineup building process.
You do not have to block in cash games all of the time. Do not just play someone to play them or because everyone else is but understand the risk of fading those options in cash games. You need to construct a lineup built to beat half of the people. Often times, 20-30% of the field will just screw up without you having to make any adjustments.
If you think someone is a horrible option, don’t just play them at 62%. Although it is risky, fading the super-high owned option in cash will often reward you with a clean sweep on the night. If you have a pivot that you straight up prefer to the chalk, you can play aggressive and try to make the chalkiest lineup with just one pivot in an attempt to just surpass the majority of lineups with a singular change.
I would not recommend that on a nightly basis, but don’t be afraid to make the bold stand if you believe that it is the optimal one. After all, you want to make the best possible lineup in cash games.